A Look Back: 140 Years of The Aspen Times | AspenTimes.com

A Look Back: 140 Years of The Aspen Times

Flipping through the paper of record’s coverage through 14 decades of change


What: The Aspen Times 140th Birthday Party

Where: Wheeler/Stallard Museum

When: Thursday, Aug. 26, 4:30-7:30 p.m.

How much: Free (registration required)

More info: AspenTimes140.eventbrite.com

When The Aspen Times published its first issue on April 23, 1881, its editors promised on page 1: “We mean business, and we’ve come to stay.”

In the 140 years since, the paper has covered the silver mining boomtown and the bust that followed with the repeal of the Sherman Act, documented “The Quiet Years,” the 1919 flu pandemic and two World Wars, followed by the town’s rebirth as a ski resort and utopian destination for “mind, body and spirit.” The Times covered World Cup skiing, the hippie incursion of the early 1970s, the shift toward progressive politics that followed, the ’80s big money blitz, the arrival of the X Games and a second pandemic.

Along the way, the paper has aimed to live up to the promises made in that first issue, when the editors wrote, “(We) promise to make things lively for the camp and for the capitalists. We are not here to boom Aspen, for we believe that the Aspen mines and prospects will boom themselves.” Swap out references to mining camps and ore for ski resorts or tourism or luxury real estate, and this statement of purpose could apply to the paper’s coverage in 2021.

We’ll be celebrating our birthday with a party open to everyone on Aug. 26 at the Aspen Historical Society’s Wheeler/Stallard Museum.

Here, with the help of the Historical Society, which maintains the Times archive, we’ve selected noteworthy photos and stories from the pages of the Times over the past 140 years.


One b/w photograph of early Aspen, with Aspen Mountain in the background. It was probably taken between 1882 and 1885, because the first part of the Lincoln School is built, but it is lacking the addition that was added in 1885. Note all the fencing around the school and homes, and at all the sage brush around town.
Aspen Historical Society

MAY 14, 1881

“Aspen at present is, of course, in its infancy, having been snowed in all winter, there being no toll roads opened, and last summer, consisting of not more than three or four log cabins; but now houses are going up very rapidly, as fast as twelve good sawmills can turn out the lumber. We have even now several large stores and hotels, and will have smelters as soon as they can be gotten in. … No doubt, before the summer will have passed, we will have four or five thousand inhabitants, and consequently the conveniences, evils and everything incident to a mining camp.”


JULY 1, 1893

“The Aspen, Durant and Smuggler will be practically shut down by the first of July without the silver and ore markets improve. Sixty men were laid off yesterday from the Smuggler. Manager Palmer, of the Aspen, says he has eighty-five men now, but by the 1st he will have only fifteen. Refiners of silver bullion will not pay the smelters until the bullion is refined. Banks will not at present carry the smelters to buy ore and smelters cannot handle high grade ore and pay for it spot cash with the price of silver declining so rapidly. Mining matters are assuming rather an uncertain aspect, which affects not only Aspen, but the entire state.”


A crowd gathered at the Colorado Midland depot to send off men fighting in WWI in 1917. The fire tower is in the background. A caption that ran with the original photo reads, "Crowd at depot, departure. Aspen's first contingent".
Aspen Historical Society

SEPT. 6, 1917

“With the departure of Joseph A. Borstner last night, Aspen today for the first time realizes that this country is really at war. A large crowd gathered at the depot last evening to bid young Borstner God-speed and as the Midland rolled out carrying with it Aspen’s first boy to go to the front under the Conscription Act three cheers and a tiger were given for the young soldier who goes to the front that Democracy might live. And as the parents and friends of the young lad were weeping all were brought down to the hard fact that our country is now engaged in a mighty struggle. And this will be more fully realized as more of our young men leave for the front — and if the casualty list comes in bearing the name of an Aspen boy, then indeed will all of us realize the fact more than ever that we are at war.”


A photograph of Aspen and Aspen Mountain from 1945.
Aspen Historical Society

AUG. 30, 1945

“Walter Paepcke, who has proven to be one of Aspen’s top-flight boosters since he first saw the slightly tarnished crystal city some three months ago, is back in Aspen to help start the ball rolling to get Aspen back on the map in a very real way. His enthusiasm for Aspen has steadily grown to the point that he seeks the assistance of all interested persons in a plan to develop in an orderly and sensible fashion the resources left after nearly a half-century of neglect. Mr. Paepcke, contrary to popular belief, owns only a small part of Aspen, consequently any plans for restoring this city in any way must be a community project.”


The grand opening of Lift One, on January 11, 1947. The three men in the photo are Walter Paepke, A.E. Robinson (the mayor), and Lee Knous, the governor of Colorado. Gov. Knous is making the address. A sign behind them says "Aspen, World's Longest Ski Lift.“
Aspen Historical Society

JAN. 16, 1947

“The big show is over. After weeks of anticipating, the Grand Opening is over. The ski lift, Hotel Jerome and guest houses are launched on their way as a part of the facilities of the greatest winter sports center in the United States, bar none. Now Governor, Lee Knous, made the dedication speech, giving official approval of this installation as a part of a state-wide plan for calling attention of the nation to Colorado and Aspen specially that we have the snow, terrain, accommodations and personnel to satisfy the wants and desires of the nation for a fine winter resort as well as the finest place in the world in the summer in which to vacation.”


The Elli's building in 1949, when it served as the Housing Center for the Goethe Bicentennial and Music Festival located on the corner of Mill and Main streets. There is a sign on the building reading "Welcome to the Goethe Bicentennial Convocation and Music Festival.“
Aspen Historical Society

MARCH 3, 1949

“The immense sum of $275,000.00 is being raised entirely outside of Aspen to defray the expenses of this world-wide celebration, honoring one of the greatest thinkers and humanitarians or the world. Aspen has not been asked and we understand she will not be asked to contribute one penny of this amount. But, we owe it to ourselves and our visitors to do certain things, namely: one of the most extensive cleanup and paintup campaigns that Aspen has ever had; the opening of Aspen’s homes for the comfort of the many fine people attending the celebration; and, getting ourselves in the frame of mind to welcome with genuine Western hospitality the people who will come from nearly every country in the world. … Goethe visitors would return for like celebrations or festivals year after year and Aspen could become famed far and wide as the center of celebrations in music, art or literature as well as skiing.”


Aspen Highlands area under construction in 1958. All that is completed of the building is the A-frame construction of the roof. Around the and in the building are various construction materials with two men standing near a beam toward the back middle of the image. To the right of the image can be seen a wooden staircase showing that building was two stories. Originally published in The Aspen Times October 23, 1958.
Aspen Historical Society

OCT. 9, 1958

“With the Thanksgiving opening of Aspen Highlands, the new ski area up Maroon Creek, Aspen will be able to boast having not only the world’s longest chairlift, but the world’s longest double chairlift. For some years, ‘the world’s longest’ chairlift, number one on Aspen Mountain, has figured large in all Aspen publicity. Now Highlands owner Whipple Van Ness Jones, Highlands developer and, coincidentally, president of the Aspen Chamber of Commerce, is strengthening the impact of that statement by constructing another ‘longest’ at his area.”


Four skiers, skiing in a line down a run on Snowmass with their backs to the camera. They are identified as Hal Hartman, Don Rayburn, Bill Mason, and Jim Snobble.
Aspen Historical Society

OCT. 23, 1967

“The Aspen Skiing Corporation, the third leg of the stool that supports the effort that is Snowmass-at-Aspen, will have about 50 employees operating the five lifts, patrolling the 50 miles of trails and maintaining the runs at the big new winter resort. Broken down, the numbers show up as six supervisory personnel, 18 on ski patrol, 18 on lift operations and maintenance, and four on slope maintenance.”


John Denver singing into a microphone while playing his guitar on stage at the 1977 Deaf Camp Picnic. Originally published in The Aspen Times June 30, 1977.
Aspen Historical Society

JUNE 23, 1977

“John Denver will be singing at the Ninth Annual Deaf Camp Picnic on Sunday, June 26. And so will Twerp Anderson and the Country Cannonball, Tumbleweed, Bob Kaye and Three, and Pearly White. The annual picnic is one of the major sources of funding for the Aspen Camp School for the Deaf which is located in the Snowmass Creek Valley on a 13-acre tract of land donated by Harald Pabst … Approximately 3,000 people attended the picnic in 1975 and 4,000 attended in 1976. The picnic earned $20,000 for the benefit of the Deaf Camp in 1976.


Three pairs of skis and one snowboard leaning against a railing outside of MacDonald's Restaurant in downtown Aspen. The skis are Rossignol, Salomon, and Head.
Aspen Historical Society

APRIL 2, 2001

“Aspenites learned Sunday that they can share their playgrounds without problems after all. The big stink about opening Aspen Mountain to snowboarders disappeared Sunday when the Aspen Skiing Co. officially dropped the ban. Some skiers have been complaining about sharing since January, when the Skico announced it would open the mountain to riders. About 2,500 skiers and riders hit the slopes at Ajax for a sun-drenched day of peaceful coexistence. Aspen Mountain Manager Steve Sewell reported only one minor altercation. It was verbal only, and he successfully officiated. The only protest was tongue-in-cheek. Most snowboarders put politics aside for a chance to finally ride their favorite mountain. Many skiers were resigned about a day they acknowledged was inevitable.”


Fireworks blast the ashes of Hunter S. Thompson from his famous double thumbed-fist into the sky above his Woody Creek Owl Farm on Saturday night, August 20, 2005.
Paul Conrad/Aspen Times Weekly

AUG. 21, 2005

“Hunter Stockton Thompson took his final trip last night. The legendary author’s ash remains exploded out of a giant fist grasping a peyote button at 8:45 in a field outside his home on Owl Farm as Japanese drummers built their beat to a crescendo. Blue and white fireworks erupted from either side of the 150-foot tower as the button changed from blue to green and back. Bob Dylan’s ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ streamed out of the party.”

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